TCS Daily

The Natural #2

By Douglas Kern - July 12, 2004 12:00 AM

I don't mean to sound immodest -- humility being one of my innumerable strengths -- but I happen to be personally responsible for the selection of the 2004 Democrat vice-presidential candidate. Just the other day, I inaugurated an Internet advice column ("Ask an Obscure Conservative Lawyer Posing as a Knowledgeable Pundit!") and my first correspondent hit me with a doozy:

Dear Obscure Conservative Legal Guy:

I'm a politician from New England with a big problem. Let's suppose for argument's sake that I'm about to be the Democrat Party's 2004 presidential candidate. I need to pick a vice-presidential candidate who will show moderate voters that I'm serious about foreign policy and the war on terror. But I also need a vice-presidential candidate whose impeccable liberal bona fides will keep my base from voting for a certain third-party candidate. And I also need help in the battleground states. I offered the job to John McCain, but he just laughed and made fun of my haircut. Who should I pick?

Embattled in Boston

To which I responded:

Dear Embattled: We can't even begin this conversation until you accept that all three of your premises regarding your vice-presidential candidate are wrong.

The last thing you need is a VP who demonstrates seriousness regarding the war on terror. Such a candidate might inadvertently underscore your lack of seriousness on that subject. More important: if this presidential race comes down to a referendum on who will be the toughest on terrorism, you've already lost. Bush will always be further to the right than you on this issue; he has no Michael Moore-cuddling constituency to appease, nor does he have a third-party candidate to siphon away his votes if he comes down too hard on the side of national security. No, you win if and only if November finds the American public bored and frustrated with the war on terror. The last time America voted for a Democrat in order to smite its enemies more ferociously, the year was 1960 -- and you, sir, are no John F. Kennedy. If the question in 2004 becomes "Will you wring the neck of America's enemies harder then the other guy?" your response ("Oui!") will fail.

People use the phrase "September 10th" as a pejorative. I say: September 10th isn't ambitious enough. You need a veep with the good looks, slickness, and capacity for doubletalk that will convince America to party like it's 1999. Or, better still, 1996 -- Clinton cleaned up that year.

So pick a vice-presidential candidate with no foreign policy experience whatsoever. And avoid candidates with military service, too; in time of war, soldiers like it when their senior leaders are totally clueless about military life. In fact, you should probably pick a candidate who has never engaged in any kind of selfless public service apart from elected office. And let's keep that elected office service to an absolute minimum, shall we? The easiest voting record to explain is a short one.

Your best bet would be an affluent plaintiffs' lawyer. Americans love crusading trial lawyers for the same reason that they love free market economics (despite the best efforts of your party to convince them otherwise): Americans love the dream of getting rich. There is no American so mean, base, or stupid who does not believe, deep down, that he can be, will be, and should be rich. Thus, Americans hate the notion of punitive taxation on the wealthy; such taxation is a lien on the title of everyone's imaginary mansion. But if free markets promise great rewards in exchange for hard work, plaintiffs' lawyers offer a better promise -- great rewards with no work whatsoever!

Admittedly, plaintiffs' lawyers have their role to play in our society. They are professional whiners -- but some situations call for whining. At best, though, the contribution of plaintiffs' attorneys to the economy is zero. They can (sometimes) effect a just restoration of unduly deprived victims, but they do not create wealth -- they only distribute it. And to the extent that such distributions are made on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis, with the distributions determined by sentiment and caprice as often as rational thought, plaintiffs' lawyers frequently create more inefficiency than justice. That's Democrat leadership, baby!

Remember: the Republicans are the party of wealth makers, and the Democrats are the party of wealth takers. Let the Stupid Party have their investor class! You have the parasite class: the union clock-watchers, the government bureaucrats, the sucklers at the teat of academia, and the handout recipients. Handle them with care. Liberal credentials are great, but radical leftism is upsetting to parasites; they might lose their steady check, come the Revolution. Your candidate must speak to the need of the parasite class for security, comfort, and protection from pesky up-and-coming youngsters. You need a man who has never produced a new product, met a payroll, or sold a bar of soap. You need a candidate allergic to free trade, disdainful of commerce, and enamored of regulation -- and who can present all of the above preferences as populist wisdom and not bug-eyed socialism. Your base is composed of some rough loofahs, so your veep had better be a smooth sponge.

As for battleground states: relax. Focus on getting a Vice-President with limited popularity in his own state, in order to show America that your ticket is not beholden to any specific region. Hey, it worked for Mondale and Dole! And be sure that the state in question is intrinsically hostile to Northern liberal values. I suggest a Southern state. Southern Democrats wield strange magical powers. How else can 1976 be explained? Moreover, no Democrat since FDR has captured the White House without a Southerner on the ticket. A handsome, well-spoken Southerner is just the thing to both humanize and give some electoral oomph to a wonky Massachusetts politician with a pronounced lack of charisma. Just ask President Dukakis.

And what better salesman could you have than a Southern Democrat who has successfully sold liberalism to the South, even if only once? If they bought liberalism once, they'll buy it twice. Remember the cardinal rule of the snake oil salesman: "Always return to the town where you sold the most snake oil, so the townspeople can properly thank you for your useful product and honest sales pitch."

Finally, you'll want a VP who is comfortable being number two. You'll want someone who has come in second in many, many races -- presidential primaries, for example. You'll want someone who has already been passed over for a VP slot in a previous election and won't feel bad about being your second choice. I suggest picking someone whom you've insulted publicly on many occasions about his deficiencies as a future commander-in-chief. Such a selection will show the public that you don't really mean the nasty things you say. After all, it's important that we shed your image as a rigid, resolute stickler who never changes his mind.

When you assess your options by all these criteria, your VP choice is obvious: Richard Gephardt. No need to write back and confirm your choice. I'll alert the media. I have a friend at the New York Post.


The Obscure Ohio Legal Guy


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